A very old friend of mine pointed me to this article at the Boston Herald, about Paul Keigan and his story of how the American dream is over.
Long story short: Paul Keigan started out as a Canadian immigrant 48 years ago, with $96 and the American dream. He got into sales at a car dealership, and immediately he started making friends and repeat customers. Then, 20 years ago, he bought a failing dealership in Franklin, which was to become Keigan Chevrolet.
This year, however, GM, in the midst of its own baptism of fire, has pulled the plug.
“Nobody wants to go out this way,” he explained. “And I’m just one of thousands going through it. Honestly, I’m not bitter for me; where else could a guy like me have gotten a shot like this? I’m bitter about the good people this is hurting, like the people on my staff who performed so well.
“They had nothing to do with GM’s bankruptcy, yet they’re the ones paying for the greed that caused it.
“If we had run our business into the ground, fine. But to have done the job the way we did, only to have someone tell you, ‘Hey, buddy, you’re all done,’ it’s awful.
“Who’d have thought that could have happened in America?”
Now, my very old friend tells me, from personal knowledge, that Paul Keigan is the nicest man you’d ever want to meet. And I believe it, because if he’s as good a salesman as they make him out to be, catching the American dream using nothing more than his personality and wits, then he’s gotta be a nice guy. We picture the salesman as a sleazy type, hair slicked back, hand out ready to shake and pickpocket at the same time. But in reality, the best salesmen are personable and downright likable, because they have to be, because in the real world, that’s how you get people to like you enough for them to buy stuff from you.
So if Paul Keigan is the nicest man you’d ever want to meet, that’s going to make me the asshole, because I am definitely not feeling like a salesman right now.
Because if Keigan really cared about his employees, and if he’s really that great a salesman, he’d start a business selling something else. It’s not like there’s nothing to sell. Hell! He could probably even still sell cars. (I understand people are still driving them.) He started Keigan Chevrolet in the middle of a recession 20 years ago, and he could do the same thing again, if he wanted to.
But he doesn’t want to, and I can respect that, too. He’s 68, and he wants to retire. I can understand that… except for one thing… he’s “bitter”—his word, not mine. That sticks in my gut, makes me feel uneasy, like I’ve been emotionally violated.
I have a real hard time working up sympathy for a man who complains instead of doing something to fix what’s bothering him. Now, maybe it was just the reporter who made him seem like a bitter, old man, because playing the victim goes over really big nowadays politically. Or maybe the reporter did not misrepresent him; maybe he needs to be bitter so that he can blame someone else, rather than just admitting that he could do something for his employees, but he just doesn’t want to, because he wants to retire.
However the rhetoric falls out, one fact is clear. We have all had to adjust. I am looking for work again, even though I don’t really want to. Many people are looking for new jobs or starting new businesses. Many businesses need to find new industries or new markets—and not just during a recession, either. Every time Google changes their policy, thousands of online businesses need to adjust or go under. When Amazon some months ago seemed to be discriminating against print-on-demand books, many indie authors freaked out, because they depended on Amazon for almost all their revenue.
And you know something else? I couldn’t work up any sympathy for them, either. Because if you build your business on someone else’s, you accept that you’ll go down with them. You accept their risks. If you depend on Google, you should expect to fail as soon as your business is no longer useful to Google, because that’s the risk you accepted by depending 100% on Google. If you don’t want to accept that risk, you must diversify, only depending a little on Google, and a little each on many other sources of web traffic. That’s the smart thing to do, anyway. And I have a real hard time working up sympathy for these online businesses who don’t do the smart thing and then complain and get bitter when Google changes their policy. See this? It’s the world’s smallest violin…
So their chosen ski rope broke, or maybe their boat ran out of gas, and they sank into the water. So get up and try again already! Because that’s what the American dream is all about! What makes Paul Keigan, his industry, his business, his employees so special that they deserve a pity party instead?
What makes any of us so special that we deserve a pity party?
Remember Will Smith’s character in The Pursuit of Happyness? Even at the lowest of lows, he was still a sympathetic character. With all the mistakes he seemingly had made, we still sympathized with him. Because he never asked us to pity him. Rather, he took his destiny into his own hands and pursued his American dream.
Likewise, the American dream is only dead if we stop pursuing it.